10 Mar 2014

Saffron robes: Buddhist monks in Thailand

Thailand is a country where rooted traditions coexist with modern customs without any issues: they are proud of their culture and they strive to keep it and pass it on to future generations, while they also rapidly and gladly accept and incorporate the latest trends and habits to their everyday life. A short walk in any city of this country will let you find a fancy shopping center protected by a spirit house at the entrance, for instance. Mores and modernity hand by hand, because they believe that in order to advance, there is no need to leave the past behind, as we can carry it along with us, just adapting it to the times. And this is precisely what happens with the subject I wanna present today. 

Grey morning, saffron robes, GH3 + Lumix G X Vario 35-100mm
Crossing the bridge in Si Satchanalai I, GH3 + Lumix G X Vario 12-35mm 
Crossing the bridge in Si Satchanalai II, GH3 + Lumix G X Vario 12-35mm 
Somewhere in Isan, GM1 + Lumix G Vario 12-32mm

Collecting alms, GM1 + Lumix G Vario 12-32mm
Descending the stairs, GH3 + Lumix G X Vario 12-35mm
Feeding the herd, GM1 + Lumix G Vario 12-32mm
Being a Buddhist country, there are plenty of monks in Thailand, both mature and novice, and it's easy to spot them, specially in the mornings, when they leave their temples to collect alms through the streets. But the monks, as the rest of the Thai society, have also adapted themselves to the challenges of the postmodern, globalized world we live in, hence they can be seen performing tasks that many had deemed impossible just a few decades ago. If there is a lesson to learn from here is, simply, to find a balance between old and new in order to survive, keeping the essences intact but adapting the surface to the changing times.

Afternoon break, GH3 + Lumix G X Vario 12-35mm 
Withdraw or deposit?, GM1 + Lumix G Vario 12-32mm
Trying his mundane luck, GH3 + Lumix G X Vario 12-35mm 
Photo shoot, GH3 + Lumix G X Vario 12-35mm  
Holy selfie!, GH3 + Lumix G X Vario 12-35mm 

17 Feb 2014

Thailand Historical Parks: Sukhothai & Si Satchanalai


Since 1987, when Muean Sing (Kanchanaburi province) was declared a Historical Park by the Fine Arts Department of the Ministry of Education, Thailand has been working hard to restore, develop and promote the most outstanding monuments of their long history, not only to preserve them for posterity but also to educate the newer generations about the rich 700 years of history their country has enjoyed this far. Up until today, 10 parks have opened, and in this post I will cover 2 of them, Sukhothai and its associated park Si Satchanalai.
 
Canopy over Wat Mahathat, GH3 + Lumix G X Vario 12-35mm
Wat Mahathat, GH3 + Lumix G X Vario 12-35mm
Sculptures at Wat Mahathat, GH3 + Lumix G X Vario 12-35mm
The bridge off Wat Mahathat, GH3 + Lumix G X Vario 12-35mm
The sunshade tree, GH3 + Lumix G X Vario 12-35mm
The city of Sukhothai, 400 km north of Bangkok, was the capital of the first Kingdom of Siam during the 13th and 14th Centuries, until it was replaced by Ayutthaya in the 15th Century. Although Sukhothai was the political and administrative heart of the Kingdom, two other towns had considerable weight, as well: Si Satchanalai, 50 kms to the north, was the spiritual center, while Kamphaeng Phet, 70 km to the south, was the military bastion. Together they formed a strong, unitary Kingdom, and today the 3 sites have been restored and opened as Historical Parks, while also being included by the UNESCO in their World Heritage Sites list in 1991.
 
Reflections, GH3 + Lumix G X Vario 12-35mm
Wat Chana Songkhram, GH3 + Lumix G X Vario 12-35mm
Wat Si Sawai I, GH3 + Lumix G X Vario 12-35mm
Wat Si Sawai II, GH3 + Lumix G X Vario 12-35mm
Stairs at Wat Si Sawai, GH3 + Lumix G X Vario 12-35mm
The old Sukhothai town, located 12 km from the modern city of the same name is, no doubt, the biggest of the three, with a total surface of around 70 square km and almost 200 temples, most of them partially or totally restored in their different states of conservation. The central portion of the park is enclosed by a rectangular moat of around 2 x 1.6 km, and some of the most notable temples are within this area, which is very well kept and conditioned to walk or cycle around it, and it also have public toilets and some local restaurants and shops.
 
Wat Sa Si, GH3 + Lumix G X Vario 12-35mm
The bending tree, GH3 + Lumix G X Vario 12-35mm
Buddha at Wat Sa Si, GH3 + Lumix G X Vario 12-35mm
The bridge to Wat Sa Si, GH3 + Lumix G X Vario 12-35mm
Organic maze, GH3 + Lumix G X Vario 12-35mm
Symmetry and color, GH3 + Lumix G X Vario 12-35mm
But it's highly recommended to rent a bicycle at one of the multiple rental shops in front of the park gates and cycle outside the perimeter of the ancient city to visit some of the outer temples; these are usually not that well kept and restored, though they are usually more quiet and isolated, which gives them a more peaceful and enjoyable vibe, as the ancient city can get quite crowded during weekends and holidays. Besides, these lands are mostly flat and full of trees, which makes a bike ride a very enjoyable experience in itself.
 
Dome tree, GH3 + Lumix G X Vario 12-35mm
An inviting path, GH3 + Lumix G X Vario 12-35mm
Wat Phra Phai Luang, GH3 + Lumix G X Vario 12-35mm
Detail at Wat Phra Phai Luang, GH3 + Lumix G X Vario 12-35mm
Ruins of Wat Phra Phai Luang, GH3 + Lumix G X Vario 12-35mm
Sunset at Wat Saphan Hin, GH3 + Lumix G X Vario 12-35mm
One day is enough to visit most of Sukhothai landmark temples at a relaxed pace, so the second day is time to move some 50 km North and visit the satellite park of Si Satchanalai. In essence, nothing is very different here, for the temples and ruins belong all to the same period and, therefore, architectural style, and that's the reason why many people skip this park altogether and only visit Sukhothai. An that's precisely one of the reasons why I found Si Satchanalai to be specially appealing and interesting: you have all the ruins and temples mostly for yourself, as there are far fewer people roaming around them than in Sukhothai.

Wat Phra Si Rattana Mahatath, GH3 + Lumix G X Vario 12-35mm
Tree frame, GH3 + Lumix G X Vario 12-35mm
Wat Chao Chan, GH3 + Lumix G X Vario 12-35mm
Si Satchanalai is smaller than its bigger sibling and it's not as advertised nor known for that reason, but the temples spread across its surface are equally beautiful, if not more and, more specially, the surroundings are much more unspoiled and natural, with dense forests and hills and much less traffic and people, which gives it a rougher atmosphere, more authentic and serene. Again we cycled our way through the different temples without any issues, for distances are generally short, and half day was all we needed to cover most of the important monuments.

Wat Khok Singkaram I, GH3 + Lumix G X Vario 12-35mm
Wat Khok Singkaram II, GH3 + Lumix G X Vario 12-35mm
Wat Khok Singkaram III, GH3 + Lumix G X Vario 12-35mm
All in all, we really enjoyed our two days there, not only because of the beauty of the place and temples themselves, but for the whole experience of riding leisurely between ancient ruins and temples, completely in peace and almost perfect silence. It really feels as if traveling back in time seven centuries.

Wat Khao Phnom Phloeng, GH3 + Lumix G X Vario 12-35mm
Wat Chang Lom, GH3 + Lumix G X Vario 12-35mm
Wat Nang Phraya, GH3 + Lumix G X Vario 12-35mm
Retreat, GH3 + Lumix G X Vario 12-35mm
Had we had another day, we would have visited the third pillar of Sukhothai Kingdom, that is, Kamphaeng Phet, the smallest of the three sites, but we had a tight schedule so we had to fly back to Bangkok that same evening. But I will visit it next time when I finally find the time to go to Tak, so all is well!

Wat Chedi Chet Thaew I, GH3 + Lumix G X Vario 12-35mm 
Wat Chedi Chet Thaew II, GH3 + Lumix G X Vario 12-35mm
Wat Chedi Chet Thaew III, GH3 + Lumix G X Vario 12-35mm